Based on the post “Do You Need to Go Home?” I invite you to tell your stories of leaving your home church. In this guest post my friend Rebecca Archer describes the process that lead her and her husband, Tony, away from their church-home after 20 years.
My husband and I were leadership, pillars in the church. It was “home” in every sense of the term. We were there for 20 years, participating in every level of ministry from preaching to cleaning the toilets and changing diapers in the nursery! Our identity was entwined there. Twenty years! But those last eight were pretty hard. Yes, eight years of difficulty.
To the congregation we stood in our places, confronting gossips and malcontents, soothing wounds made by the Senior Pastor and his wife, and counseling everyone to follow the Matthew 18 principle: “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again.” (The Message)
However, in the leadership meetings? Whoa Doggie! Look out! We were confrontational! “What about this? What about that? You promised this, where is it?” Several times, when we started with our questions, one of the other elders would say, “I think we need to stop and pray.” As if asking questions and holding the leadership responsible was some sort of crime!
We didn’t know what to do! Pillars do not leave. We figured that we would pray and that God would fix it somehow. And pray we did! We did NOT want to be a part of the malicious gossip or to participate in the destruction or division of a church! Christ paid a big price for His church and we feel it is a shame and sinful to carelessly harm her.
Finally, we realized that this two-faced stance had become a deception. What had begun, rightly, as a protection of the leadership had changed into a cloak to hide the sins of the leadership. Oh, not that we could see any overt sins! That was a pretty big factor for us. There was no great sin that we could identify or we would have done so! (Later, some of those sins became known….) Our silence to the congregation about our growing concerns about the ministry had been interpreted as agreement with them! To the leadership, we were the rebellious, cantankerous ones! To the congregation, we were a confirmation that “all was well.” The situation came to a breaking point.
After the eight years of buildup, there was no great explosion! Yet one more unjust micro-management situation came up and we said, “This is not correct. You must either acknowledge that you are in error, or we cannot continue to walk together.” My husband had a short, quite friendly “hallway meeting” with the pastor and it was agreed that our time together had come to an end. A few arrangements were made as to the particular details, and a date was set to bring us before the congregation and to “send us out with prayer” and so it was!
As we prayed about where our next church would be, both my husband and I felt the same – we did not want to float around churchless, nor did we want to “go shopping”! That could take MONTHS because one visit isn’t enough to understand a pastor or a congregation. We felt the Lord directing us toward a specific new work in town. While we were awaiting our “farewell prayer” at the old church, we arranged a meeting with the new pastor and his wife in their home, asked a few important questions concerning doctrine, ministry theories, and emphasis, and we were “home” again! It took us awhile to heal from the shock and from the manipulation and control we had grown accustomed to, but then, we plunged into ministry again with joy! The new “home” opened doors to mission work and many other exciting relationships and experiences!
I wouldn’t trade those 20 years for anything. Home was a great “nursery” for us; training us in the Word, to worship, to minister, to lead, to follow, to confront, to stand against adversary and to hear God’s Voice. Leaving home was a very painful experience. However, it was also the doorway to a great, new adventure!
There are times when we must separate! We are human. It is part of our nature to disagree! Abraham and Lot, Paul and Silas, Jacob and Esau, they are all are biblical examples of human relationship separation. But it shouldn’t be the first thing you do! It shouldn’t come easy. It shouldn’t destroy the thing that God loves – His Church.
Thanks, Rebecca! Do you have a story about leaving your home church? I'd love to hear it. It doesn't have to be posted on the blog--I'd just love to hear your story. Drop me a note at Ray dot Hollenbach @ gmail dot com.